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How to Increase Your Running Pace

By Leslie Barker

When you’re a kid, you don’t even think about running. You just run.

As adults, though -- except for dashing into a store that’s about to close or trotting after a wayward toddler -- we sometimes let running intimidate us. But learning to master it is good for several reasons:

It’s a huge part of each Orangetheory Fitness workout. It’s beneficial to our physical and mental health. And, once we get the hang of running, it’s fun.

“Running provides overall muscular strength as well as cardiovascular endurance,” says physical therapist Aaron Santiso, a member of Orangetheory’s medical board. “Of course, there’s also the direct benefit of stress relief, endorphin release.”

For Minneapolis member Katie Tierney, honing her running skills through Orangetheory has given her not only a personal 5K record of 24:03, but also confidence. Her daughter’s college roommates call Katie “a badass.” And during a recent trip Katie and her husband Tom took to Florida, they walked about 50 miles over five days.

“I don’t think I could have done that before,” Katie says. “I told my husband I feel more comfortable in my own skin than I have in a really long time.”

Vanessa Vossler, a coach in Atlanta, tells of a member in his 40s who weighed 400 pounds the first time he set foot in her Orangetheory studio. That day, he walked his first mile in 30 minutes. Four years and 200 pounds lighter, he runs a mile in 6:59.

“People from all walks of life come through the door,” Vanessa says. “Some have never run in their lives; some loved running before, but have never done what we do here.”

So what DO we do here? It all starts with three paces: base, push, all-out.

“The base pace is the foundation for everything within the workout, Vanessa says.  “It should feel challenging but doable, something you could maintain for 20 or 30 minutes while carrying on a conversation.”

Push is exactly what it sounds like: an oomph in your pace which will increase your heart rate, make your heart work harder, and improve your overall health. All-out takes that yet another heartrate-increasing step further.

“Our heart is a muscle,” Aaron says. “You want it to get more efficient? Start out at base, which is pushing your heart to a certain level to prepare. Then, get into the push to get your heart to exhaust a bit.”

Adds Vanessa: “It’s important to get uncomfortable during push and very uncomfortable during the all-out, but you have to return to base pace to get the true benefit.” 

Think of the base as home: Where you can always return, and where you garner strength to emerge stronger than ever. Which is why, when your heart gets stronger and you want to increase your pace per mile, the way to do so is by increasing your base. 

“You need to be able to finish keeping that new level of exertion, but without losing form or being exhausted or being hurt,” Aaron says. “If my base is 5 and I want to test it, I’m going to go 5.3 and if I finish with no changes in my technique or no super fatigue, then the 5.3 was a good choice.”

 

Here are 10 more tips to make your running the absolute best it can be.

 

  • Focus on form. If you’re not running correctly, your body will overcompensate, increasing your injury risk. The goal, at least initially, isn’t speed; the goal is form. Keep your chin parallel to the ground, your gaze forward, your hands moving loosely by your ribs, Vanessa says. “The most common mistake is going too fast and letting the treadmill belt control you, rather than slowing down and moving correctly,” she says.

Good posture and keeping your shoulders back will help you breathe correctly, Aaron says, allowing correct pelvis and hip alignment. These are needed for your legs to work efficiently.”

  • Start as a power walker. This will help you get used to the treadmill, Vanessa says.
  • Be consistent. “You won’t get better if you just go to class once a week,” Katie says. “Go two or three times.”
  • Don’t worry about numbers. “Focus on the feeling,” Vanessa says, “making sure it matches the effort we’re asking for. We want people to focus on attacking the uncomfortable feeling to push and the very uncomfortable to the all-out.”
  • Warm up. Cool down. Aaron recommends doing both -- 10 minutes before and 10 after -- with a foam roller, which will help you achieve the trifecta of an efficient and effective program: stability, strength, flexibility, he says.
  • Push yourself in small increments. Every few weeks, Katie ups her pace by point-one or so. (A caveat: what works for her may not work for you). “Before you know it, you’re faster,” she says. “It’s like life: Take it slow and steady and be consistent and you’ll get through.”
  • Strength train. That’s where the Orangetheory floor workout comes in. Squats, for instance, develop the core, thighs, glutes, Aaron says. “That stabilizes the lower back and pelvis, which are at the center of the universe for running.”
  • Hydrate. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water before, during and after your workout.
  • Avoid overtraining. “Running more or running longer does not create better running,” Aaron says.
  • Ask questions. Your coaches can help you get started, keep going, and reach goals you maybe never even dared to dream.